Being there for the final two weeks of the project we had more time to experiment with different approaches to gathering solutions. The youth (all boys) from the neighboring village were one of the groups we met with several times over the length of our stay. According to Chris, in the first meeting we were met with skepticism and mistrust:
I met with a group of “Youth” (aged 14-18 years old) from the village today in the Art Center library, to explain the project and ask if they would like to work with us in the village next week. Originally, the reception felt very cold. Ayoub (a man early 20′s who works at the Art Center) described the project in Arabic, and it was met with silence.
The first response was “I don’t think people in our village will be interested.”
The second was “What do we get for this? Why should we do this?”
The third was concern that this was some sort of American Government response to the infamous youtube video, and it was clear they did not want to be used in that way.
By the time I arrived the youth seemed quite willing to engage with us (although most refused to be photographed or videotaped) and they gave their take on the various American questions/problems we threw at them. I began by asking them their impressions of the U.S. and I thought one of the boys summed up many Moroccans perception of America: On the one hand he said that he had heard that Americans want to impose their way of life on everyone else and dominate the world (for instance the war in Iraq.) On the other hand he believes if he were able to actually live in America, he would have many more opportunities to achieve the things he wanted. Another boy pointed out that teachers didn’t leave in the middle of the day or whenever they felt like it and kids didn’t have to walk so far to get to school. They seemed genuinely surprised that such problems (like homelessness) existed in the U.S.
The final session I had was a touching dramatization of the way they related to some of the American problems. As part of an experiment to find different methods of engagement we used theater techniques of Augusto Boal (as taught to us by Jan Cohen-Cruz). In this process, the kids were asked if they could relate to the American problems and what examples they could give from their own life. No one (including those who had refused previously) objected to being videotaped. 3 or 4 stories were given and we chose to act out a scenario where one boy’s friend was teased so much for having a speech impediment that he had stopped going to school. 4 or 5 boys stepped forward to act out how they would solve the problem, ranging from pulling each harasser aside individually to involving authorities to using humor.
There was enough enthusiasm about the theatre that several of the youth volunteered to come act out their scene to a group we were meeting with the following day. Samya said we needed to limit it to 4 of the older kids and asked them to come back to rehearse in the afternoon, but not tell the other kids so no one’s feelings would be hurt. I had to smile when 4 and then five and eventually 12 kids trickled in to rehearse.
Coming into the city to perform was a remarkable experience for the boys the next day. About 50 college students were there and we were given a couple hours of a daylong forum. The first problem was disparity between rich and poor and that generated such an animated discussion, that it took several attempts to cut it off so that we could get to the other problems. They were clearly a more privileged/educated group. (In response to “lack of cultural diversity” one kid said in perfect English that Morocco didn’t have that problem — they were inclusive of everyone — for instance they always bought a gift for their maid.) Someone else talked about that “old chinese saying” — “give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, but teach him to fish and…”
On the last day of my visit as we bounced down the dirt roads of the village in the donkey cart, one of the older boys who participated in the theater spotted us and came over and jumped aboard the cart. He spent the next few hours with us as we toured around and often he initiated the conversation with passersby explaining the project, and what we were doing.
Leaving something behind
We set up one think tank that we can use in future iterations of GTT with a Moroccan organization of college students, but I am sure we could have set up others as well if needed. By the time we left, a number of people were involved in the project and understood it’s underpinnings well enough that they could easily explain it and facilitate a discussion. I am confident they could take out the donkey cart and continue the project.
When the owner/founder of dar al ma’mun saw the painted donkey cart he got really excited and wanted to place the cart at the entrance to the food hall. We requested and they agreed that villagers would be able to sign the cart out for a day or two whenever they needed it for chores or whatever other purpose, so it would be utilitarian and continue to be see in the village as well as at Dar al Ma’mun.